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Sri Lanka's Genocidal War - '95 to '01
Article 19 accuses Sri Lanka of using censorship
to conceal true cost of war - 20 January 1999
For more information, please contact:
LLana Cravitz, Press Officer, tel: +44 171 278 9292 fax: +44 171 713 1356
"The Sri Lankan
government should immediately lift the censorship regime imposed under island-wide
emergency regulations more than six months ago and take other long-promised steps to
guarantee press freedom, ARTICLE 19 said today.
In a new report, Fifty Years On: Censorship on conflict and media reform in Sri Lanka, (released on 20 January 1999), the London-based international anti-censorship organisation accused the Sri Lankan government and military of using the emergency regulations to conceal from the Sri Lankan people the true cost of the continuing war against the separatist Tamil Tigers. According to Andrew Puddephatt, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19:
"Clearly, the re-appointment of an official censor to vet media reporting of the conflict and related affairs is having a severe 'chilling effect'. This seriously impedes the free flow of information about issues of key public interest, including the high number of casualties on both sides and the extent of civilian displacement. This has exacerbated a long standing problem of lack of information arising from the military's denial of effective access by journalists to the war zones."
The report also criticises the government's retention of criminal defamation laws and their continuing use against leading editors and journalists who take issue with official policy. According to Andrew Puddephatt:
"When the People's Alliance government came to power four years ago it promised a whole series of media reforms, to break with the repression of the past and guarantee respect for freedom of expression and other basic rights. At first, there were some positive signs but four years on very little of the reform agenda has been achieved. Furthermore, the government has shown an increasing tendency to target its media critics through the use of lawsuits and other kinds of harassment."
ARTICLE 19 said that the government's latest step, taken last year, was to appoint a parliamentary select committee to examine the case for media reform. According to Andrew Puddephatt:
"We hope that this is a genuine process even though the elect committee will be covering much ground which government-appointed expert groups already examined more than two years ago and no firm date has been set for it to make its recommendations. Only time will tell. But it would be tragic for the future of Sri Lanka's democracy if it turns out to be no more than a recipe for further delay."